Hoi An to HCMC
I’m close to the end. Motorbiking Vietnam has been an incredible journey. This country has taught me to have more faith in most people, including myself.
In my travels through this country I have been overwhelmed by the kindness and honesty of strangers. I say this with caution, knowing that my current location of Ho Chi Minh City is the place to watch my back. Big cities bring out the pick pockets and thieves; the desperate and the eager. But that forced caution here is merely a reminder that most everywhere else people were eager to welcome the weary eyed and help those in trouble.
At one point I was in a very crowded line for a ferry on my motorbike, fumbling with my (secondary fake) wallet having misunderstood the necessary amount of cash. I needed to break a big bill to pay a tiny amount in VND. Most people paid in about 2 seconds and I was taking maybe, holding up a tempestuous flow of two wheeled traffic. In one moment I dropped one of my gloves. In the next I dropped an entire wad of cash. Then, trying to get my glove, I dropped the entire wallet. It’s hard to reach the ground while sitting on a motorcycle and trying not to knock it over, never mind avoiding getting my hands run over. One man next to me handed my glove. Another my wallet. And the incredibly busy man who gave my ticket and change reached over to grab even the smallest of my dropped bills. Back home, perhaps someone would have helped, but they would have probably been annoyed, especially on the east coast and around NYC. But there, all were kind with their energy and remarkably patient. That was one more notch in the category of, it’s okay to trust people.
The weather on my last legs again became a friend. Every day was warmer and while I had more days in the wet, I was by the end prepares for it. Waterproofing one’s feet it not easy but makes riding in the rain infinitely more pleasant. By my final days of long travel, my attitude shifted.
For most days of my long journey, I was in a rush to get from one place to the next. I began most days with an orientation around completion. Success was getting where I wanted to go with minimal stops and fuss. I skipped food and avoided stopping even for restroom breaks. I was like a machine. But by the final days, I began to enjoy the journey itself. That lesson is one that I must carry into the rest of my life:
I stopped often. I would take pictures of everything from the mundane to the beautiful. Sometimes I’d turn around to get a closer look at something, like this giant rock that quite impressed me. I took weird turns and followed the coasts, learning that winding paths along the beaches do more for me than even the most beautiful mountains. The parts of Vietnam that many claim are the least interesting to drive were my favorites. By the last two days I was in driving bliss. At one point I was in the middle of basically nowhere, well often the beaten, and found what was basically a garden oasis in a beautiful cafe and coffee shop clearly built for some future, but open today. Pictures simply cannot capture even a fraction of what I saw with my eyes, and that I am realizing was very much the point. But it wasn’t all good. Towards the end, with other travelers, I started to see some shadows.
I was traveling solo but made some new friends who were chatting a similar course. I had one not so great experience that was more of a reflection of my own fallibility. But I had numerous other experiences, especially with European travelers, that made it clear that racism is alive and well.
I saw in many instances that people were treating me differently in a not good way because of my race. That’s painful to experience in 2023. As a brown man traveling the world I am less valued than a white man, plain and simple. I will stress that it wasn’t everyone or even most people, and that nothing terrible happened, but it was everywhere and every day. My fellow brown and yellow travelers, men and women and especially those from western countries, couldn’t help but discuss this on various occasions amongst ourselves. In the past I’ve questioned whether such conversations are necessary or needed, but it was quite clear in these cases that they were. Our white friends, kind and well intentioned, simply couldn’t understand the frustration of so many little cuts. This is a standalone topic and one I will write more on later. On the bright side, while many could not accept me as American, my fellow Americans, and especially Texans, did unflinchingly. I prepare to return home with even more pride.
Sitting here in Saigon, preparing for my final day, I feel excitement and sadness. I am ready to go home. This trip was exactly what I needed. I learned lessons about myself and others. I feel I’m leaving a little wiser with a few good stories. I have made some new friends from all over the world, many of whom I intend to see again some place at some time. My biggest learnings were to enjoy the ride and trust the universe. I certainly know not to be naive and to approach every situation with eyes wide open, but also with heart and spirit open. The world is not perfect or fair, but it is beautiful and giving when we are willing to receive.